It’s 1953, and Jake just knows that the new boarder is a Communist spy.
The 12-year-old fan of Commie-fighting comics hero Spy Runner has no trouble finding plausible evidence, either, from the unkempt stranger’s comment that his parents were Russian to mysterious phone calls in the night and a scary interview with a pair of heavies who claim to be FBI agents. But suspicion proves (then, as now) contagious, and suddenly Jake’s own best friend is shunning him, he’s ostracized at school, and a black car is following him around Tucson. On top of all that comes the emotionally shattering discovery that his mom, solitary since his dad was declared MIA in World War II, has let the stranger into her room. At this point, having set readers up for a salutary but hardly unique tale about prejudice, misplaced suspicion, and the McCarthy era, Yelchin briskly proceeds to pull the rug out from under them by pitching his confused, impulsive protagonist into an escalating whirl of chases, crashes, threats, assaults, abductions, blazing gunplay, spies, and counterspies—along with revelations that hardly anyone, even Jake’s mom, is what they seem. The author includes a number of his own blurred, processed, black-and-white photos that effectively underscore both the time’s fearful climate and the vertiginous quality of Jake’s experience. The book assumes a white default.
An imagined adventure turned nightmarishly real leads to exciting, life-changing results. (Historical adventure. 10-13)